Your lovely female kitten is your pride and joy. Upon reaching the age of about six months, she undergoes a behavioral change. It's the equivalent of feline adolescence. Even if you aren't familiar with the signs of heat in a female cat, you'll realize something's different about her. It's estrus.
As the precursor to heat or estrus, proestrus is easy for you to miss if you aren't attuned to subtle changes in your cat's behavior. This stage lasts only a day or two. During this period, she's interested in male cats, if she has access to them, but not quite ready to breed. If she's inside your house, she might seem friendlier than usual and rub against furniture and other items more than normally. She's a little hungrier than average. Because daylight influences heat, breeding season for cats in North America ranges from March to September, a little longer the further south you go.
There's nothing subtle about estrus. This is the period during which she is sexually receptive to a male if one's around, and she's intent on finding a mate if there isn't. A cat yowls, rolls around the floor, sticks her butt in the air, licks her genitals and becomes affectionate to the point of nuisance. Some cats start spraying urine. She's likely planning an escape if she's indoors -- plotting and biding -- so be extra careful when entering and leaving the house. The estrus period can last four days to 10 days. If she's not bred, the drama will start up again about two weeks later.
Unless your cat is purebred and you want to preserve her bloodlines, there's no reason to breed your cat. There's simply far too many cats in the world and not enough homes for them. If you want to avoid ever having your cat go through heat, have her spayed before puberty. Spaying is an ovariohysterectomy, surgical removal of the uterus and ovaries. Vets can perform pediatric spays as soon as a kitten weighs 2 pounds and reaches the age of 2 months. If your cat is already in heat, her annoying behavior might make you want to get her spayed as soon as possible. Some vets will spay a cat in heat, while others won't perform the surgery until her estrus ends. Spaying a cat in heat takes more time and more time to heal because of enlarged blood vessels.
You don't want your cat's estrus to end in a natural fashion by actual mating. If she does escape from the house, assume she found a tomcat. If you can't get your cat spayed right away but can't put up with her behavior, your vet can fool your cat's body into going out of heat by fake breeding. Your vet can stimulate your cat's vagina, using a lubricated, clean thermometer or similar hygienic item. Your cat's body thinks it's been bred and goes out of heat. While you're at the vet, make that spaying appointment so you and your cat don't go have to go through a heat cycle again.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.